By BERNIE BELLAN
In covering Annual General Meetings over the years I always try and find something different about which I can write – so that an article like this doesn’t end up being simply a repeat of previous years’ reports.
Of course, the fact that Jewish Child and Family Service, like the Jewish Foundation two weeks prior, held its AGM via Zoom (on June 24) is notable in itself. And, like the Jewish Foundation meeting, one must offer congratulations to the organizers of the meeting for how smoothly it ran (thanks in no small part to JCFS Executive Director Al Benarroch, who demonstrated quite a familiarity with technology during the course of the meeting).
Again, however, as was the case with the Jewish Foundation AGM, while the opportunity was presented to viewers to pose questions via the “chat” function that is available on Zoom, no questions were asked. For a wretched news reporter like me there is always the temptation to ask questions that have nothing to do with what is being covered during an Annual General Meeting, but are extremely relevant to the functioning of particular Jewish organizations – but, since those issues weren’t raised during the AGM – I kept my finger off the chat button.
Instead, I exchanged emails with Al Benarroch subsequent to the AGM. Al dealt with some issues that were not covered during the AGM in his email to me.
One of the issues that I raised in my email to Al was that, during the Jewish Foundation’s AGM, the subject that was of greatest interest to me was simply declared beyond the scope of that meeting by Foundation Board Chair Richard Yaffe, i.e., How much assistance have specific organizations received and are going to receive during the ongoing pandemic? (The Jewish Foundation has already disbursed $400,000 to Jewish organizations and will be disbursing $200,000 more sometime soon in the near future. According to Jewish Foundation Board Chair Richard Yaffe, however, we’ll have to wait until next year’s AGM to find out who got what. Now that’s what I call transparency!)
As for the Jewish Child and Family Service, heck, they’re also a well-run organization, – just like the Jewish Foundation, but there was no discussion of two issues hovering over JCFS that have been brought to the fore many times in the past.
While there wasn’t anything in the 2019-20 financial statement to raise any concerns during the JCFS’s AGM, there was also no reference at any time during the meeting to either the JCFS’s need for expanded office space, nor to the supposed plan developed years ago to build an addictions centre.
In the fall of 2019, for instance, this paper reported that JCFS had outgrown its existing office space and was desperately in need of new space.
Following is an excerpt from an interview I conducted with JCFS Executive Director Al Benarroch back in September 2019:
JP&N: … is there any news about where you might be going (to open another office)?
Benarroch: At our May general meeting we struck a task force that was asked to come back in a short period of time (by this September) with a plan. We’ve already looked at about half a dozen properties in and around about a 5-kilometre radius to the campus – in addition to having discussions with the Federation and the Asper Campus what can we do in this facility. And, are there any plans to expand the footprint of this campus if, in fact, the Federation’s strategic planning has said we have to grow services in many areas?
The strategic planning’s report talked about expanding services in education, in mental health, in support for seniors. If, in fact, we’re going to expand these services, where are they going to go.
…we’ve been looking for roughly 3,000 more square feet of space. We have a footprint right now of roughly 5,000 square feet for over 40 staff. We’ve given up a board room here. It’s been taken over by older adult service staff. We have a conference room which is adjacent to the board room; we’ve moved two staff in there.
Yesterday I gave up my office for the entire morning so that staff could interview clients.
We need to relieve the pressure we’re facing right now – yet alone plan for expanding and growing.
Whatever space we’d be looking at would be temporary. It’s now 22 years that we’ve been in this facility. The campus has taken over squash courts, it’s taken over a museum – internally, to accommodate the growth in services. Maybe it’s time now to look at growing outside this building, whether it’s on to the land – although apparently there are issues around digging on the land.
However, despite the issue of the JCFS’s need for more space, nary a word was mentioned about that during the AGM.
In his email to me following the AGM, Al Benarroch had this explanation why there was no mention of the lack of adequate space for JCFS: “This was not mentioned, as most of this was put on hold as a result of COVID-19, which has understandably taken priority. We shifted our focus to insuring that services are being provided to our most vulnerable. With staff working remotely and face-to-face & group programs being suspended at this time, space needs have not been a concern to service delivery at this time.
“Even in the face of the pandemic, we continue to work on our strategic planning goals, of which space needs remain a high priority. We will continue with this planning and resume more activity once the pandemic hopefully passes.”
As well, I’ve been writing for years about the supposed plan by JCFS to greatly expand addiction services. In 2015, when the National Council for Jewish Women announced that it was going to sell the building that housed the Gwen Secter Centre, the ostensible reason was to use the money to create a “Winnipeg Jewish Recovery and Resource Centre”. According to an article written by Myron Love back then, “The NCJW-supported residence, operated in conjunction with Winnipeg’s Jewish Child and Family Service, would provide a home environment with a Jewish atmosphere that would be open to both Jewish and non-Jewish residents with addiction issues.”
We haven’t heard much about that project either – although the National Council for Jewish Women did sell the building that houses the Gwen Secter Centre for $900,000.
Al Benarroch did however, offer this explanation for the lack of movement on building an addictions centre in his email: “I’m sure you can appreciate that non-profit organizations move at a slower pace and have to be much more accountable to donors and funders in planning these things, than would a project launched in the private sector.”But, my bringing up past plans shouldn’t get in the way of lauding the JCFS for another successful year (and the JCFS’s fiscal year ended March 31, 2020, just as the lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic was setting in.)
In recent issues I’ve written about how JCFS has responded so quickly to many of the needs that have developed within our community as a result of the pandemic, whether it be taking its counseling program online or offering food assistance to those in need, again working closely with the Gwen Secter Centre in coordinating the providing of shopping services to individuals who either can’t get out themselves or actual meals, as the case may be.
During the JCFS AGM, Al Benarroch referred to the manner in which JCFS has adapted to the reality of not being able to see clients in person, noting that “All staff transitioned to working from home. Food and pantry deliveries have ramped up.”
But even before the pandemic brought about such drastic changes in how we are all leading our lives, JCFS had been continuing to deal with growing demand for its many services.
Benarroch cited some figures to illustrate how vital a role JCFS has been playing in our community. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, JCFS:
• handled over 2500 cases involving 5700 individuals
• provided assistance to 77 immigrant families
• assisted an additional 50-60 Yazidi refugee families
• assisted over 500 frail seniors, including Holocaust survivors
• provided help for 150 clients with mental health or addiction issues
• provided counseling services for 200 individuals
• tended to the needs of 23 children in foster care
• helped another 200 individuals requiring financial assistance or food from the JCFS’s food pantry
• in cooperation with the Gwen Secter Centre, provided 150 Passover hampers
• provided seven inmates at Stony Mountain Penitentiary with kosher for Passover meals
Those were just some of the accomplishments Benarroch cited during his report.
In other news, outgoing JCFS President Sherry Lercher Davis reported that the JCFS’s endowment fund at the Jewish Foundation had grown by over $1 million in the fiscal year just passed – from $2 million to $3 million. As is the case with other Jewish organizations here, the Jewish Foundation has been encouraging them to create endowment funds that will provide a solid financial foundation for years to come.
In his Treasurer’s report, Al Shpeller noted that, once again, the JCFS operated in the black, with an excess of revenues over expenses of $28,447. It should be noted that the JCFS held a very successful “Community of Caring Gala” in 2018. During the 2019-20 fiscal year the proceeds from that gala were transferred to the Jewish Foundation, which is administering the JCFS endowment fund.
In one final piece of business, outgoing JCFS President Sherry Lercher Davis passed the gavel (figuratively, since everyone participating in the meeting was in their own home, save Al Benarroch, who was doing a masterful job coordinating the meeting from the JCFS offices) to incoming President Ari Hanson, who will now take on that role for a two-year term.
Working with late night talk show stars Colbert and Stewart dream job for former Winnipegger
By Myron Love When the Jewish Post last touched base with Raffie Rosenberg in the summer of 2020, she was back in Winnipeg for a few months during the Covid lockdown reconnecting with her father, Lewis Rosenberg (her mother, the late Dr. Fran Steinberg passed away ten years ago) and other relatives while looking forward to returning to New York in the fall to continue her studies at Columbia University.
As far back as she can remember, she noted in that earlier interview, she has had her sights squarely set on a career in the entertainment industry. “I started dancing lessons when I was two years old,” she recalled. “I loved it.”
She added that her interest in the theatre was also stimulated by her parents, both of whom had been involved in the arts. Prior to pursuing a career in medicine, her mother studied at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. She also taught dancing and further studied dance at York University. Her dad also has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree – Theatre Design and Technology – from the University of Minnesota.
Having graduated previously (in 2016) from Western University’s Ivey School of Business, Rosenberg earned her second degree – an MFA – with a focus on theatre management and producing – from Columbia in 2022.
And she is very happy to report that, over the past two years, she has had the opportunity to work behind the scenes with two of her heroes in the entertainment business – none other than the king of late night television, Stephen Colbert, and his predecessor, Jon Stewart.
She got on with Colbert’s “The Late Show” as a production intern during her final semester at Columbia shortly after graduation from Columbia for a five-month period (January-May, 2022) and followed up on that coup by being hired as a production assistant on Stewart’s return to the air waves via Apple TV with “the Problem with Jon Stewart,” a weekly series featuring hour-long single subject episodes. The show launched in the fall of 2021. Rosenberg joined the production team in the fall of 2022.
(The show was recently cancelled.)
Those were my dream jobs,” Rosenberg notes – “to work with both Stewart and Colbert on televised shows that include elements of live theatre (such as a studio audience and band).”
She points out that entertainment internships are difficult to get – especially in late night. “The team at Colbert is really proactive about interviewing a huge number of candidates and taking a look at people from the online applicant portal,” she reports. “I got lucky and the timing was right for that internship.”
She notes that, being in an entry level role at The Late Show and at The Problem, she didn’t work with either host directly. “The staff of The Late Show is over 100 people and at The Problem there were around 60 of us,” she says, “but both Jon and Stephen are incredible bosses. They’re kind, focused, and great leaders. Even though I never worked with either directly, being able to work on their shows was a huge highlight and definitely a childhood dream come true.”
Her role was different for each of the shows – reflecting the different responsibilities in her job titles and the fact that Colbert is nightly and Stewart’s show was weekly.
“As a production assistant, I was more involved in areas such as research, working on the podcast and deeper dives into current events ,” she points out. “Also, we were working with a longer lead time on Jon’s show – which gave us more room to expand on individual subjects.”
In her independent work as a creative producer, she points out, she is more involved in sourcing funding to help get the project off the ground, crafting the narrative, working with the script writers and hiring lead actors and the director.
For the past two summers, Rosenberg has produced the Arts in Action Festivals for the Broadway Advocacy Coalition. The BAC was founded in 2016 by a group of actors and activists with the goal of using the arts to try to create as a vehicle to help create a more just world. The two-day Arts in Action festivals present workshops, performances, panels and screenings in furtherance of its goals.
With the conclusion of production for the “The Problem With Jon Stewart” last fall, Rosenberg is open to new projects – one of which is a collaboration with a couple of other Jewish artists on a coming-of-age comedy.
It would seem that Raffie Rosenberg has a bright future to look forward to in theatre and film production.
Husband and wife team of Russel and Rori Picker Neiss bringing different aspects of Jewish learning to Limmud Winnipeg
By MYRON LOVE Rori Picker and Rusell Neiss say they are excited about their upcoming first visit to Winnipeg. The couple, Jewish educators – originally from New York, who have been living and working in St. Louis for the past ten years – will be here on the weekend of March 9-10 – as presenters at our community’s 14th annual Limmud Fest.
Russel Neiss is promising Limmud attendees that those attending his presentation will be in the first audience to view the digitized version of “The Story of Purim,” an award winning Jewish educational filmstrip which is part of a recently rediscovered lost cache produced by the NY Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s.
“We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the last 70 year,” notes Russel Neiss.
Russel is a 2005 graduate of City University of New York. The recipient – in 2020, of the prestigious Covenant Award (which recognizes educators who have made a noticeable impact on Jewish lives through innovative educational practices and models), served for several years as vice-principal of a Jewish day school in the New York area.
In 2014, Russel changed careers. He became a software engineer specializing in the development of software programming for Jewish educators for an organization called Sefaria. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to digitizing the entire body of Jewish religious writings in order to make them available so that anyone can engage with the textual treasures of our tradition.
“A couple of years ago,” he reports, “I came across a cache of film strips produced by the New York Bureau of Jewish Education in the 1950s. These films would have been shown to students in the 1950s and ‘60s. They have not been viewed for more than 60 years.”
At Limmud, he will be showing a film called “The Story of Purim.” “We’ll view the slides and table-read the script together as we see how much the field of Jewish engagement and education has (and hasn’t) changed over the years,” he says.
His second presentation – on Sunday afternoon – will focus on “what the atheist computer scientist Richard Stallman can teach us about how Torah learning can thrive in the world today while delving into the interplay between Hacker Culture, the Free Software Movement and the teachings of great Jewish thinkers like Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.”
Rori Picker Neiss will also be doing two presentations – one of which will be a study of leadership as exhibited by Moshe Rabbenu in the matter of the Golden Calf. For those who may not know or remember the story in the Torah, some days after leaving Egypt, Moshe climbed Mount Sinai to commune with Hashem. After some time had gone by and he didn’t return, the frightened Hebrews, believing that he wasn’t coming back, gathered together everything they had that was made of gold and created a golden calf to worship – an act of blasphemy that resulted in severe divine consequences – including the Israelites having to wander in the desert for 40 years until the last of the offending generation had died out.
“What we can take away from this episode,” Rori observes, “and what Hashem made clear to Moshe- is that leadership is not about the leader and fame and glory. Leadership should be about doing what is in the best interests of the people.”
Her second presentation will be an exploration of what the early rabbis thought about Jesus and Christianity as seen through a censored Rabbinic passage.
Rori Picker Reiss has the distinction of being one of the first half dozen Orthodox women to be ordained – through the Yeshivat Maharat organization – founded in 2009 – to serve as clergy.
“I welcomed the opportunity to study Talmud and our religious texts,” she says of her decision to enroll in the Maharat program. ‘My ordination presented me with a number of different ways to serve our community.”
In St. Louis Maharat Rori served as Director of Programming, Education and Community Engagement at the modern Orthodox Bais Abraham Congregation. She was also Rabbi in Residence at Holy Communion Episcopal Church, chair of the cabinet of Interfaith partnership of Greater St. Louis and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Previously, she worked as acting Executive Director for Religions for Peace-USA, program coordinator for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, assistant director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, and secretary for the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.
While there may be some among the Orthodox community who may be uncomfortable with the concept of women serving as clergy, Rori reports that she was generally well-received in St. Louis and was able to build many relationships both within the Orthodox and the wider communities.
Rori and Russel have recently moved back to New York City where Rori has been appointed the Senior Vice-President for Community Relations for the Jewish Council for Public affairs.
Three organization join forces to mount Mission to Israel in May
By BERNIE BELLAN In response to many requests received from members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community to organize a volunteer mission to Israel, for the first time ever three different organizations have joined together to organize just such a mission – from May 20-28.
Titled “HINENI 2024,” the mission is being mounted by the Jewish National Fund, Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, and Bridges for Peace.
The mission will include five days of intensive volunteering and visits to various sites in Israel. It will also include three meals a day and ground transportation.
There will be an information night at the Asper Campus on February 28 but, in advance of that information night, we contacted JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan Executive Director David Greaves to ask whether he could provide some details about the planned mission prior to that information meeting and describe how it all came about.
Greaves said that both the JNF and the Federation were thinking of organizing missions in May, so it was only natural that they would combine efforts.
“The Federation has organizational experience, and they’ll be able to handle the registration process,” Greaves explained, while “the JNF will be able to handle the logistics on the ground,” such as arranging accommodation, transportation, and meals.
And Bridges for Peace was able to step up and negotiate some very good pricing for air fares for anyone who would want to fly on specific flights – details for which will be announced in the coming days. (Greaves noted that flights have not been included as part of the package as many individuals indicated that they wanted to make their own arrangements getting to Israel.)
Yet, unlike any other mission that the JNF has mounted in years past, Greaves wanted to make it clear that the May mission will be a “volunteer” mission, during which participants will be expected to “be on their feet four-five hours a day” engaging in tasks whose exact nature is still being formulated – in conjunction with various Israeli organizations.
“We’re looking at volunteering primarily in the south,” Greaves said, including picking fruit and vegetables. As of this moment, he added: “We’re still investigating various volunteer possibilities.”
Included in the mission tentatively, accordiing to Greaves, will be visits to the site of the Nova music festival, where 364 primarily young Israelis were massacred (along with 40 abducted), as well as visits with families of hostages and a visit with the mayor of Sderot.
As far as accommodation is concerned, Greaves wanted to make it clear that mission participants will not be staying in four or five star hotels.”Most likely they will be three star hotels,” he noted. And, when you take into account the cost of providing three meals a day along with bus transportation and other ancillary costs, Greaves suggested that the mission cost, which will be no more than $3,000 (exclusive of air fare), is quite reasonable, especially when you take into account typical costs associated with visiting Israel and the relatively low Canadian dollar. As well, Greaves said that couples travelling together will probably pay somewhat less per person – around $2500 per person, he suggested is likely.
I asked Greaves how many people they were hoping to have participate in the mission. He said that they’re looking at around 40. Although it would be great if there were a larger response, he added, the logistics of having to hire an additional bus would make it difficult to plan a mission with two buses unless the number of participants warranted that.
“If response is overwhelming, we’d get a second bus,” he added though.
I asked Greaves whether there are JNF missions of a similar nature being planned in other Canadian cities and he said there were – “in Toronto and Vancouver,” but he also wanted to emphasize that they are both being planned locally – unlike every other JNF mission, which has always been planned at the national level – until now.
In addition to the combined organizational efforts of the JNF, Jewish Federation, and Bridges for Peace, five Winnipeg congregations are also lending their support to the mission, helping to promote it among their respective congregants.
If you would like to obtain further information about the mission and are unable to attend the February 28 information evening, contact either David Greaves at the JNF at email@example.com or Abby Flackman at the Jewish Federation at firstname.lastname@example.org.